Note: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an unpaid review.
A young Jewish girl in Poland grows up in the 1920s and 1930s during the rise of anti-antisemitism and the coming to power of the Nazis in Germany. Blessed with blonde hair she changes her name and hides in plain sight to survive. Along the way she tells the story of her education, her interest in Zionism and of the events happening around her to restrict and then end the lives of Europe’s Jews.
This is a memoir for young people and is while sensitively written, it neither sensationalizes nor sugar-coats the story of real people enduring the true horrors of the Nazi regime and Hitler’s final solution. Students will easily see parallels in today’s world.
“Anti-semitism is so easy to foment. Humans all fear the Other. Is it because we Jews keep together in our neighborhoods, and often speak our own language? Because we eat different food, because we dress differently, because we work so hard and are so successful? I don’t understand why we are so suspected, so despised, but I know we are” (p. 45).
Students may recognize similar ideas: The Nuremberg laws and our own Jim Crow laws. The forced relocation of the Jews and our Trail of Tears. The concentration camps [albeit not the death camps and final solution] and our Native American reservations and Japanese internment camps. They may see the way propaganda is used to vilify. In the after-war story, they may recognize those held at our Mexican border or see refugees held in European countries or on off-shore islands as the Displaced Persons of the post-war period.
This story personalizes the helplessness of the Jews and their situation. Gucia/Basia was a normal girl, with hopes, dreams, boyfriends, family, going to school, then to college and then…. She endures being forced to attend Jewish schools, forced to sit at the back of the classroom in college, forced to watch as more and more Jewish students are deliberately failed in their college exams and then the Nazi’s invade Poland. This shows how quickly things can change. An example in the USA today of such change would be the incredible speed with which change has been had for transgender acceptance. While not a death threat to anyone, it is a good issue for a speed comparison.
Thru her family and friends’ stories, we see how much of a role luck and risk- taking can have in survival. Those who went early to Palestine, for example, survived. The role of tenacity, faith, perseverance is also shown. In the after-war story people are shown realizing they cannot just hate, they must keep moving forward–they must late go that burden and get on with life.
This is an excellent book for teaching the personal side of the Holocaust. It does not replace other first person accounts, such as Ann Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl, or novels such as The Boy in Striped Pajamas or alternative literary pieces such as Maus, but it adds to the canon of classroom-appropriate Holocaust memories for middle grades and upward.
A Junior Library Guild selection
Claiming My Place is the true story of a young Jewish woman who survived the
Holocaust by escaping to Nazi Germany and hiding in plain sight.
Meet Gucia Gomolinska: smart, determined, independent, and steadfast in the face
of injustice. A Jew growing up in predominantly Catholic Poland during the 1920s
and ’30s, Gucia studies hard, makes friends, falls in love, and dreams of a
bright future. Her world is turned upside down when Nazis invade Poland and
establish the first Jewish ghetto of World War II in her town of Piotrkow
Trybunalski. As the war escalates, Gucia and her family, friends, and neighbors
suffer starvation, disease, and worse. She knows her blond hair and fair skin
give her an advantage, and eventually she faces a harrowing choice: risk either
the uncertain horrors of deportation to a concentration camp, or certain death
if she is caught resisting. She decides to hide her identity as a Jew and adopts
the gentile name Danuta Barbara Tanska. Barbara, nicknamed Basia, leaves behind
everything and everyone she has ever known in order to claim a new life for
Writing in the first person, author Planaria Price brings the immediacy of
Barbara’s voice to this true account of a young woman whose unlikely survival
hinges upon the same determination and defiant spirit already evident in the
six-year-old girl we meet as this story begins. The final portion of this
narrative, written by Barbara’s daughter, Helen Reichmann West, completes
Barbara’s journey from her immigration to America until her natural, timely
death. Includes maps and photographs.
“Price has boldly elected to tell the story in Basia’s own first-person,
present-tense voice. The result is a dramatic, suspenseful account of survival
in extremis, told in collaboration with Basia’s American daughter.” ―Booklist
“Price’s rendering of West’s mother’s early life reads like suspenseful
historical fiction, telling a rarely heard side of the Jewish experience during
WWII . . . Family, friendships, and romance give poignancy to this unique
coming-of-age story, which is further enhanced by maps, a glossary, and an
afterword.” ―Publishers Weekly
“A rich exploration of a Holocaust survivor’s sheltered childhood, the atrocity
that failed to destroy her, and her later life as an immigrant.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“I was completely engrossed by this drama of survival. Barbara Reichmann’s story
is quite extraordinary. It is sad, and terrible, and yet somehow captivating.
The whole story of those who survived the Shoah by passing as Christians and
working in Nazi Germany is an often forgotten part of the historical record.”
―Kai Bird, Executive Director, Leon Levy Center for Biography at CUNY Graduate
Center, and co-author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning American Prometheus: The
Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer
“As occurs with The Diary of Anne Frank, this book merges the dire circumstances
of the Holocaust with the tenuousness of being a teenager. But Claiming My Place
expands the view provided in the diary for one critical reason. Anne Frank’s
story is told within an isolated cocoon. In Barbara’s story, however, the
Holocaust is in full view as her experiences unfold.” ―David H. Lindquist,
Ph.D., IPFW College of Education and Public Policy / Regional Museum Educator,
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
“This frightening true story of a young Jewish girl’s flight from the deadly
grip of the Nazis celebrates the surprising ingenuity and raw courage found only
in the depths of the human spirit. Risking what few others dared, Barbara
Reichmann, née Gucia Gomolinska, speaks with wisdom and uncommon self-awareness
through her detailed, colorful, and evocative recollections from earliest
childhood. In the final portion of this book, her daughter, Helen West,
continues Barbara’s journey in an insightful and loving overview of Barbara’s
life from the family’s arrival in New Orleans in 1951 until her death in 2007.
This is a great read with the suspenseful, inspiring and uplifting appeal of a
novel, about a character who will capture the reader’s heart.” ―Allan Holzman,
Peabody and Emmy Award-winning director and editor (Steven Spielberg’s Survivors
of the Holocaust, Old Man River, The Native Americans)
“Thanks to the detailed memories and the conversational tone, this book provides
an engaging and informative reading experience with as much appeal as a fiction
title. Recommended for most YA nonfiction collections.” ―Magdalena Teske, West
Chicago Public Library District School Library Journal
“This book was truly a celebration of the human spirit. What a gift she has for
putting you in the story. Her way with words, plus her weaving of the actual
events recounted to her by the unbelievably courageous Basia and her daughter
Helen, was nothing short of magical. The included photographs and epilogue
served to fully round out this amazing tale. I never wanted this book to end!”
―Rabbi Lynn Brody Slome
About the Author
After graduating from Berkeley and
earning a Master’s Degree in English Literature from UCLA, Planaria Price began
her career teaching English to adult immigrants in Los Angeles. She has written
several textbooks for University of Michigan Press and has lectured at over 75
conferences. In addition to her passion for teaching and writing, Planaria has
worked with her husband to save and restore over 30 Victorian and Craftsman
homes in her historic Los Angeles neighborhood. Claiming My Place is her first
book for young adults.
For more information, please visit Planaria’s website at www.planariaprice.com.
Blog Tour Schedule
Friday, March 1
Interview at Passages to the Past
Sunday, March 3
Review at Jorie Loves a Story
Review at Locks, Hooks and Books
Monday, March 4
Interview at The Book Connection
Review at So Many Books, So Little Time
Tuesday, March 5
Feature at The Book Junkie Reads
Feature at To Read, Or Not to Read
Wednesday, March 6
Review at Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Thursday, March 7
Review at Peppermint Ph.D.
Feature at CelticLady’s Reviews
Friday, March 8
Feature at T’s Stuff
Review at Hopewell’s Public Library of Life
Sunday, March 10
Review at Clarissa Reads it All
Monday, March 11
Feature at Coffee and Ink
Review at Jathan & Heather
Review at Impressions In Ink
Tuesday, March 12
Feature at Maiden of the Pages
Wednesday, March 13
Review at Just One More Chapter
During the Blog Tour, we will be giving away a signed copy of CLAIMING MY PLACE!
To enter, please use the Gleam form below.
– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on March 13th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
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entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– The winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.
Claiming My Place Tour